A walk through South Africa's oldest township - Alexandra

Recently The Hub Presents hosted our Travel Massive group on a walk about through Alexandra Township, commonly referred to as Alex. A stone throw away from the affluent suburb of Sandton, Alex’s tourism sector is fast increasing, offering township tours to many of our country’s international visitors.

Having visited many townships before, Alex was one that I shied away from, having previously heard so much negative stories on.

Curious children watch us as we pass by

So when the opportunity arose to visit, I jumped at the opportunity to challenge my own fearful boundaries. Just to be on the safe side, I left all my jewellery, my fancy cell phone and my purse at home, and headed to the township. On arrival I was greeted by our friendly tour guides – Sifiso and Semadi, who began telling us all about the history of the township.

We were created by this lady with a beautiful smile. It still bogs my mind how they can carry such heavy things on their heads.

Like many people, I was under the impression that Soweto was Johannesburg’s oldest township. I was surprised to learn that it was in fact this 104 year old township and that Nelson Mandela first resided here when he came to Johannesburg.

Residents cross over the nearly built bridge over the Jukskei River at sunset.

Alex is divided into two parts – the new Alex with semi modern houses, and the old Alex with an abundant of informal dwellings aka shacks. With a population of over 200 000 people, Alex houses a concentration of immigrants from South Africa as well as Africa.

The community embracing their photo being taken

Another interesting fact - Alex was one of the few urban areas in the country where black people could own land during the Apartheid era. On a previous visit to Kliptown Soweto, I learned that people “hired out” or “sold” their shacks – which I found incredibly fascinating. I wanted to know more about this and whether this was a common township practice.

It turns out it is. For as little as R500 you could hire a “shack” for a month, or purchase one for R8 000 - R25 000. I am not to sure how lease and sales agreements would work here, but I can only imagine that they would be based on the traditional “Gentleman’s agreement” – a simple handshake and off you go.

It is rare to see people living here have a car let alone a bicycle.

One thing I noticed about Alex and townships alike, is that you can feel safe when you are visiting with a respected community leader, or have been welcomed in by the community. Kids tailing behind you is a good sign of acceptance.

If children are happy to see you it is considered as a sign of acceptance in the local community.

Like the culture of a big city; at the end of a work day cars rush by, people make their way home on foot, occasionally gathering for a quick sundowner drink - Alex proves no different.

The "Shap sign", a well-known South African greeting.

People arriving home after a long day at work.

"A Small Heaven"

Local community's washing drying outside their homes

Have a look at some of the other images I captured of this interesting historical township – a friendly community despite the slight madness and chaos of everyday living.

Alexandra's "one cell" phone booth.

I couldn't help but be fascinated by the variety of different postbox's outside all the houses.

"It is a no dumping" site.

I found this young girl enjoying her afternoon snack.

"Chicken for dinner, anyone?"

This little girl was properly the saddest girl I saw all day. Not to sure what made her so sad.

Local boys challenge us to a quick game of soccer.

Children gather in a near by park after school . . .

. . . with their friends.

A child on the nearly built bridge.

Passing by time in the park that runs parallel to the Jukskei River.

This teenage boy opened a sewing shop along side the road to make an extra income.

I got a thumbs up passing by a local shop window.

They know how to pout!

This has to win as being the most interesting post box you have ever seen! So creative.

Spider man and Ultra Mel. Love the colour combinations.

This toothless lady welcomed me into her hair salon.

Local store in Alex.

Another post box - this one looking more modern than the others.

Mom is having her hair done at Winny's.

Swinging for days.

... And another post box cemented in the wall.

View of the new section of Alex.

Alexandra Sunset.